Running has become as habitual as laundry or brushing my teeth. I make time for it 3-5 times/week. I feel normal when I do it and I feel off when I don’t. This was not always the case. I’ve been running regularly for about 3 years. The seed was planted two years prior that I might want to start running, but apparently I needed some time to warm up to the idea.
Stepping back even farther, let’s take a look at my history with exercise. As a child, I participated in dance classes and took horseback riding lessons. The idea that I was getting exercise didn’t even really cross my mind. I was just having a good time. During my freshman year of high school (after a very disappointing experience with cheerleading) I joined the crew team because some of my friends were devoted rowers. I had these serene images in my head of being out on the river, but as it turned out rowing was really hard and kind of scary. The at-first difficult three-mile run that we did as a warm-up eventually grew on me. After I got used to it, running felt easy compared to the rowing. I bravely finished the crew season and put it behind me. The following year I thought I’d try track, but found myself daunted by sprinting. I lasted 3 days and concluded that I’d stop trying to be a jock and would stick to theatre and writing for the school paper.
In college I made several failed attempts at kicking off a running practice or other exercise routine, which would leave me feeling weak after one or two tries and often coming down with a cold. When I eventually had Alexander Technique lessons at age 20, I realized what an unbalanced state I was in. Lots of muscles working way too hard and the ones that were supposed to be doing more work weren’t supporting me well. I learned that FM Alexander had called these habits “misuse”. I could tell that my misuse was affecting my coordination, stamina, and probably my health in general. I have scoliosis and had worn a tight, uncomfortable back brace in high school, both of which contributed to my habits. I needed some time to sort things out and I felt at the time that vigorous exercise would just send me deeper into my habits, so I put aside the idea for awhile.
Fast forward to 2011. By that time I had two small children and had been a certified Alexander Technique teacher for about 4 years. I took my first Art of Running workshop with Malcolm Balk and even though I hadn’t been running for sport, I’d still run for the bus and realize that I had some strong running habits that were less than efficient. I was shocked when I saw the video taken at the workshop of my running. I was leaning way back, sticking my chest out, and reaching far forward with my feet (this is called over-striding). I learned in the workshop that running could be more like hopping rather than like reaching or leaping and the result of changing my approach was that I had this very free, bouncy, joyful feeling. I was letting my rebound up from the ground do a lot of the work for me rather than trying to pull myself forward. It felt simultaneously like more work and less work, but like the work was happening in the right places.
I took this workshop at an Alexander Technique conference, which ended with a dance party. As I was bouncing around to 80s tunes and having a great time, I realized that this was exactly the feeling I should be going for when I’m running and that it could be fun like the dance classes that I took as a child, not grueling and difficult.
As I mentioned, it took me two more years to make running a priority and regular practice, but once I did, it became an ideal form of exercise for which I didn’t need a gym who wasn’t really there was or any special equipment. It simply involved going outside. I began without any concern for speed and approached the practice as an exploration of how I was using my body in order to move forward and I gradually began to be able to run longer distances comfortably, keeping the focus on form. My years of studying and the Alexander Technique had given me valuable skills so that I could be aware of my posture, breathing, how I was moving, and how my thinking coordinated my alignment and movement. The level of this awareness and the speed at which I could notice an issue and make a subtle adjustment greatly increased when I began actively practicing these skills while moving at a quick pace. I could then transfer this improved awareness and ability to notice and adjust more quickly to other daily activities such as sitting, standing, walking, and speaking. Studying the Alexander Technique made a huge impact on my life in my 20s. I had less physical discomfort. I felt more calm, energized, focused and confident, and my posture greatly improved. These benefits all increased noticeably as I used the Art of Running to apply the principles of The Alexander Technique to running.
I now teach the Art of Running to my students who are looking for a way to stay in shape, have fun and avoid injury. I also assist Malcolm Balk with Art of Running workshops and help him train other Alexander Technique teachers to teach The Art of Running. Malcolm is a senior Alexander Technique teacher, life-long athlete, and author of The Art of Running, Raise Your Performance with the Alexander Technique. Click here to check out his next workshop and lessons he’ll be teaching here in New York City in February.